Turkey's shipbuilders face workface challenges


Christopher Mayer

ONE of Turkey's leading shipbuilders has warned that questions over safety at the country's shipyards and the determination of the industrial union Limteris to expand its influence in the sector — even though most yards already have agreements in place with the recognised industry union — could undermine its growing reputation on the international stage.

Mehmet Berke Cicek, general manager of Tuzla-based Cicek Shipyard, said the union's determination to expand further into shipbuilding might be seen as having a negative impact on the industry's image, with the number of workers employed in shipyards having soared from around 3,000 in 2004 to nearly 23,000 last year.

"The growing number of workers has raised important questions about safety and standards of training for the workforce," said Mr Cicek, whose father Celal established the company three decades ago.

Mr Cicek was speaking in London little more than a week after employees at Turkish shipyards staged a oneday strike in protest at conditions, following the deaths of 14 workers this year in the Tuzla region.

Mr Cicek, who said he and other industry leaders had taken their concerns to the highest government levels, also addressed questions about any possible impact of the political uncertainty that has swept through the country in recent months and threatens to put back an agenda for Turkey's accession to the European Union.

"The political situation certainly reflects on the credibility of companies in the industry. It will affect the image of the country and might even affect investment.

"However, I would make clear that the shipbuilding infrastructure and fundamentals are secure. We face major challenges post-2011 and I am confident we will meet these." he said. 

"Cicek is developing its range of products, unlike some others who may struggle, and this may encompass the naval sector. We are also looking at other niche sectors and recendy set up our own ship design office, which will give us a competitive advantage over rival yards. We are expanding our drydock to allow us to diversify into shiprepair if and when the market falls."

Turkey's expanding shipbuilding sector has long been considered ripe for major consolidation and while his company is "not planning to get bigger" Mr Cicek said it was primed for any opportunity that might present itself.

Cicek Shipyard's orderbook comprises 18,000 dwt-26,000 dwt chemical tankers for Besiktas Shipping, 58,000 dwt bulk carriers for Bayraktar Shipping and a series of 3,150 dwt chemical />